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Program Spotlight: Literacy (Elementary School)

Literacy has been a key component of our programming for several decades, but the official launch of our intensive literacy program* dates back to 1999. It was the brainchild of the late Barclay Simpson, a wildly successful entrepreneur, equity advocate and longtime champion of Girls Inc. of Alameda County, and our longest serving CEO (1977 – 2007), Pat Loomes, both of whom firmly believed that helping young girls achieve success would create a better world for everyone.

Research shows that reading at grade level by third grade is a key indicator of future academic success, so Barclay and Pat knew that early intervention with literacy would be the basis for their new program, which began in San Leandro and later moved into Oakland Unified School District (OUSD).

Pairing our literacy programming with afterschool programming in OUSD enabled—and continues to enable—us to reach a high proportion of youth in need of this literacy support, many of whom are English Language Learners and students of color from historically underserved communities and schools that are consistently not meeting testing standards.

Girls Inc.’s Literacy Intervention Program* works with students as early as Transitional Kindergarten, who have been referred by their teachers as ‘at-risk’ for below grade-level reading and provides them with daily support – in the 2022-23 school year, elementary school participants received an average of 671 hours of support. It utilizes research-based methodology built around the Five Building Blocks of Literacy—phonetic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension—at the group level and on an individual basis.

Students participate in Read Alouds to build their comfortability and confidence, small group activities where they practice foundational literacy skills like sounding out words and word recognition, Reader Speeder, which encourages them to act out scenes and practice comprehension, and explicit guiding reading at their grade level.

We have experienced tremendous success year after year with helping students achieve reading fluency and grade-level literacy. In the 2022-23 school year, 98% of our 1st – 5th grade participants made progress toward grade-level literacy, and in a recent GO Oakland Public Schools report about Oakland’s literacy crisis, 60% of schools where Girls Inc. Is providing daily afterschool literacy programming were noted as exceeding the average OUSD literacy growth among black students, Latinx students and English Learners (EL). In the 2022-23 academic year, 49% of the 1st – 5th graders enrolled in our program were learning English, and 94% of them made growth toward grade-level literacy.

We are currently the lead site afterschool program provider for Acorn Woodland, Allendale, Bella Vista, Bridges Academy at Melrose, Burckhalter, Horace Mann, and La Escuelita Oakland Elementary Schools, and we work with girls to provide literacy support at International Community School and Think College Now.

Through the work of our former CEO Pat Loomes following her tenure with Girls Inc., and the late Barc Simpson and the Simpson Family, our literacy program was spread to and adopted by Bay Area Community Resources, as well as Girls Inc. affiliates in other parts of the nation. Girls Inc. of Alameda County also supports afterschool providers in integrating literacy intervention into afterschool hours through OUSD’s Literacy Learning Community.

We are grateful to the late Barclay Simpson for his thought partnership to develop such an impactful program and the Simpson Family for their devotion to giving back to the community.

*The literacy program pioneered by the late Barc Simpson and Pat Loomes in 1999 is called GirlSMART, and it focuses on girls, aged kindergarten through 3rd grade. We also have a broader Literacy Intervention Program, in addition to GirlSMART, that works with girls and boys from transitional kindergarten through 5th grade.